Exmoor National Park has won a prestigious Royal Forestry Society (RFS) Excellence in Forestry Award for its sustainable approach to woodland management and involvement of community groups*. It complements a new Government accord announced last week that aims to expand and enhance woodland in National Parks**.
Moor Wood near Minehead is being slowly transformed by the National Park’s woodlands team using a technique called Continuous Cover Forestry, which harnesses the ability of woodlands to naturally regenerate.
The small temporary gaps created when carefully selected trees are felled provides a stable habitat for a variety of woodland species, such as birds, butterflies and fungi, whilst allowing commercially viable amounts of timber to be harvested sustainably. This avoids the need for large-scale felling, which takes several decades to regenerate and generally involves uniform plantations that are more vulnerable to environmental pressures.
Graeme McVittie, Senior Woodland Conservation Officer for Exmoor National Park, said: “It’s great to get this kind of recognition for the work we’re doing to make Exmoor’s woodlands more resilient in the face of modern day threats from pests, disease and climate change. We’ve witnessed the loss of elm and larch in our woodlands, and are now losing horse chestnut and ash. Storms and drought have caused further damage and other diseases threaten our oaks and sweet chestnut. So it’s vital that we do all we can to prepare these places for the future.”
The Certificate of Merit was also awarded for the National Park’s commitment to creating opportunities for local communities enjoy and benefit from Exmoor’s woodlands.
Woodcombe Community Woodland is a project initiated by Forum 21, an environmental group in West Somerset. It leases an area of woodland from the National Park to produce seasoned firewood to help local people in fuel poverty, with the help of local volunteers.
Graham Boswell who leads the project for Forum 21, said: “It’s great to see our idea for a community woodland brought to life through our ongoing partnership with the National Park. The next few years will be crucial in terms of developing a workforce with the necessary woodland skills, but we’re all up for the challenge and excited by the potential benefits for the whole community.”
Rob Wilson-North, Head of Conservation and Access at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Exmoor’s diverse woodlands are truly special, providing a rich haven for nature, from some of the country’s rarest birds, butterflies and bats, to seldom seen lichens, liverworts and mosses. But they’re also an important part of the local economy, providing timber and recreational opportunities, along with a host of public benefits, including educational opportunities, carbon storage and flood alleviation. Balancing these priorities isn’t always easy, but this award is a sure sign we’re on the right track.”
Presenting the Awards, RFS President Andrew Woods, said: “The Excellence in Forestry Awards have once again revealed a rich seam of excellence in woodland management – from some of the most prestigious estates in the country to some of the smallest of woodlands. As landowners and woodland managers look to an uncertain future with increasing climate and environmental challenges, these are all woodlands we can learn from.
“It is also uplifting to see the fantastic work that is being carried out among communities to encourage forestry and woodland skills. These projects tap into the enthusiasm of those who will be planning, planting and managing our woodlands in the future as well as looking at how timber can be used in construction for generations to come and deserve the recognition they receive.”